PRODUCTIVE AGING AND WORK

A Supportive Work Culture for Multi-Generational Issues

In many organizations today, there are four generations of individuals working together. This unprecedented level of age diversity is the product of several factors, including a growing number of workers who remain in the workforce longer than they once did, either by delaying retirement or by seeking re-employment after retirement.

A generation can be understood as a cohort of individuals born during the same period of time that share a set of formative life experiences (e.g., economic and political movements, historical events) that shape attitudes, beliefs, and values. The Table below presents some basic information about the four generations in today’s workplace.

Generation Years Major Life Events Work-related Values
World War II 1925 – 1945 Great Depression
World War II
Jackie Robinson
Loyal, Dedicated
Prefer structure
Security
Baby Boomers 1946 – 1964 Vietnam War
Counterculture movement
Moon landing
Driven, Idealistic
Critical
Sense of entitlement
Generation X 1965 – 1980 Cold War
Global energy crisis
AIDS identified
Learning
Entrepreneurial, Flexible
Materialism
Millennials 1981 – 2001 Internet, Globalization
MTV
9/11 attacks
Tech-savy, Multi-tasking
Appreciate diversity
Balance, Leisure
Adapted from:  AARP, 2007; Green et al, 2012.

It is important to note that there can be a great deal of variability within a given generation and that relying solely on these four broad categories risks oversimplification and the creation of inaccurate stereotypes. It can also be difficult to disentangle the effects of generation from other changes that occur over time at work (e.g., career progression). However, the fact that work-related values and, by extension, behaviors can vary across age cohorts has important implications for organizations when it comes to issues such as training, worker motivation, use of technology, recruitment, leadership, communication strategies, and teamwork.  

In terms of productive aging, creating a supportive culture involves better understanding the generational composition of your workforce, facilitating regular discussion about generational issues, and developing a set of programs and policies that are broad enough to address the needs of all workers throughout the working life (e.g., family leave policies that appeal to both younger and older workers) and encourage positive interactions between different age cohorts (e.g., mentoring programs). A fundamental goal of this culture should be to utilize the unique skills, knowledge, and perspectives of workers in all age groups as a means of creating a more cohesive and productive organization.

References

  1. AARP. (2007)  Leading a multigenerational workforce.  Washington, D.C.: AARP. (http://assets.aarp.org/www.aarp.org_/cs/misc/leading_a_multigenerational_workforce.pdf)
  2. Green, A. P., Eigel, L.M., James, J.B., Hartmann, D., & McLean, K.M.  (2012). Multiple generations in the workplace.  In J.W. Hedge & W.C. Borman, The Oxford handbook of work and aging (pp. 483 – 500). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
  3. Rudolph, C.W. & Zacher, H.  (2015). Intergenerational perceptions and conflicts in multi-age and multigenerational work environments.  In L.M. Finkelstein, D.M. Truxillo, F. Fraccaroli, & R. Kanfer (Eds.) Facing the challenges of a multi-age workforce (pp. 253-282).  Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Page last reviewed: September 15, 2015